Some say the arrests directly feed into the narrative that immigration and H-1B debate is about fraud and immigrants not qualified to be in America are here.
It’s the kind of news that can potentially add to the rising negative rhetoric about immigration.
The revelation that hundreds of Indian students were involved in a fake university sting, set up by the Department of Homeland Security, was enough to shock and surprise to the Indian community in United States.
According to reports, the DHS set up a fake university in order to target foreign students who wanted to stay in the United States illegally. The fake institute, listed as University of Farmington, in Farmington Hills, Michigan, was “launched” in 2015. The university had a website, a list of programs, course description and fee structure, but no real classes.
Distressingly, hundreds of Indian students were found guilty of misusing the academic route to gain entry to the United States. Over a period of two years, since the “university” was set up, about 600 students, nearly all from India, enrolled with it, allegedly knowing fully well that they have no real classes to attend but are a part of what the authorities are calling a “pay to stay” scheme.
Of the 130 foreign “students” of Farmington that were arrested by the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), 129 were Indians nationals.
ICE agents made the arrests on Wednesday. The same day, eight people, all of whom are Indians, or Indian Americans, were indicted in the visa fraud scheme. The defendants have been charged with conspiracy to conduct visa fraud.
It is also reported that the authorities on Thursday strapped tracking devices on several Indian students caught in the case.
Local attorneys and counsels are both distressed and aghast.
“The news has come at a time when it directly feeds into the current administrations narrative that immigration or the ongoing H-1B debate is about fraud and immigrants who are not qualified to be in America are here,” Amy Bhatt, an associate professor at University of Maryland, Baltimore County, who has been researching on immigration activism and South Asian communities, told the American Bazaar. “We must understand that students who have been involved into this are not criminals. It is the recruiters who are trying to take an unfair advantage from people who are ignorant or naïve about how immigration works.”
Attorneys say that a lot of panic is being felt across the community.
“Our office has been receiving numerous calls from panic stricken friends and families of a large number of Indian students which could result in mass deportation,” federal immigration lawyer at the US Supreme Court Anu Peshawaria told the Bazaar. “The anti-immigrant sentiment is growing and this is yet another nail on the coffin. The lure of America will no doubt continue but is it worth it? I feel this is what every Indian needs to think about.”
Peshawaria said she also feels “very sorry to say that we have done very little in India to check the unscrupulous agents pretending to be educational advisors.”
The Indian government has asked the Department of Homeland Security for a list of detained students along with a request to provide consular access to these students.
The Embassy of India in Washington, DC, and all Indian consulates in the United States are working closely together to help the Indian students currently in custody. The embassy has set up a round-the-clock helpline with two phone numbers (202-322-1190 and 202-340-2590) for assistance and questions related to the detention.
Since most of the students belong to the Telangana region in India, the Telugu Association of North America (TANA), which has been receiving a lot of panic-stricken calls, has also come forward with help.
Leaders of TANA met with Indian Ambassador to the United States Harsh Vardhan Shringla, who was on a visit to Atlanta.
Attorney Peshawaria said she, too, has spoken to the ambassador on the issue. “This morning when I was speaking to the ambassador [of India], I advised him on the need to draw a distinction between those involved in recruiting or enrolling students and students who were duped or defrauded in the process,” she said. “We need to also understand that when the government sets up an agency solely for the purpose of rooting out visa fraud we must review possible entrapment and manipulation across all federal jurisdictions. Fortunately, the court has the power to ameliorate the harshness of a sentence driven entirely by government conduct. The touchstone of due process is protection of the individual against the arbitrary action of government.”
Bhatt agrees that one needs to differentiate between those who were fooled and those who took the students for a ride. “We need to also understand that with the visa rules changing every day, often ignorant people are left wondering on what the right procedures are,” she said. “They may end up trusting a source who claims to know the route and ends up duping everyone in the process. Most of these students are from middle class families in India, whose parents never came to the United States and they were most probably in their desperation to land up in the US are now caught in a vicious web where they definitely face deportation, likely arrest and potential permanent denial of permission to visit the United States in the end it’s the most vulnerable with limited social and economic resources that are caught in the act.”
Many Indian Americans are feeling as aghast and press that due procedures need to be followed.
“We must understand that not everywhere in the world can you migrate,” said Kirit Udeshi, a Virginia-based business consultant. “The United States is still allowing migration on skills, employment or family-based merit if you follow due processes. It is sad that some from the community are getting involved into such negative approaches.”